Sometimes described as a ‘silent epidemic’, chronic pain has been found to affect over 40% of the UK population. It’s a shocking statistic, and a reality that Kei Maye, a consultant, public speaker and founder of Creative Champs, knows incredibly well. As someone who suffers from endometriosis, Kei is often managing intense discomfort while running a business from home. Here, she tells us more about her experience and shares techniques that have most helped her – in the hopes of supporting others navigating similar challenges.
Every month for the past six or seven years, I’ve been dealing with the symptoms of endometriosis; but I was only diagnosed after years of endless doctor appointments and hospital visits. My symptoms include hectic fever, back pain, headaches, IBS, recurring bladder pain, abdominal cramps, fatigue, cold sweats and dizziness – all for around two weeks, every month.
Dealing with any kind of pain while you’re trying to complete tasks is a nightmare. Trying to work through relentless chronic pain for days on end? Nightmare on steroids. No matter how mild or severe your pains are, they can be debilitating and can make daily activities difficult to navigate; much less working and showing up for your clients and customers.
What is Endometriosis? According to the NHS website: “Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Endometriosis can affect women of any age. It's a long-term condition that can have a significant impact on your life, but there are treatments that can help.”
As you can imagine, there’s been a fair amount of difficulties running a business with these buggers showing up every month! I’ve had to reschedule calls, cancel appointments, turn down work, attend countless appointments and at times, I’ve not even been fit enough to have a conversation with friends.
It can feel incredibly lonely.
If you’re reading this and you too are dealing with chronic pain, please know that you’re not alone in it. And if you’re in search of tips to help navigate working from home, I’ve got some nuggets that have helped me pull through.
1. Keep a pain journal
If your pains are intermittent, you might find it helpful to make a note of the things you have eaten that day, the pains you’ve felt and your mood – perhaps there are connections there?
Keeping a pain journal has not only been helpful for doctor visits (and finally being diagnosed) but it has also enabled me to identify when my mood takes a massive nosedive. It’s also been incredibly helpful to identify triggering foods, or any specific times of the month when I’m likely to experience symptoms.
“Keeping a pain journal has has enabled me to identify when my mood takes a massive nosedive.”
I use a pain-tracking app to document my moods, symptoms and make notes about meals I’ve eaten on days where I’m not feeling so great.
You can use any sort of note-taking app for this, but I personally recommend using something with a calendar format such as Bearable or Manage My Pain App – as it makes it a lot easier to quickly identify patterns, rather than sifting through separate notes.
This makes it far easier to predict when I’ll be feeling under the weather, and make plans ahead of time. Which leads me neatly into the next tip…
2. Schedule ahead of time
Once you have a sense of the most productive times of day, or when you’re likely to be in pain, it’s good to plan ahead. But also remember to be realistic and set achievable goals.
I use the Notion app to set myself three tasks a day. Using the pain journal to reflect times of the month when I might be suffering, it becomes easier to work out which weeks you may need to strip tasks down to perhaps one or two – or schedule the day off.
“Type up a document with predicted dates of when you know you won’t be able to work.”
If you really have to do work when you’re experiencing pain, think about focusing on less demanding tasks that won’t completely suck the life out of you. If the pain is too much, you could opt to work on the weekend instead (if you work for yourself), and give yourself those days off to rest and recover.
Another thing I’ve found useful, is to type up a document with predicted dates of when I know I won’t be able to work, for reference. If you experience terrible period pains like me, this is absolutely key; the last thing you need is to run a workshop when you’re writhing around with a hot water bottle.
3. Know when to step back
This is a big one. Sometimes when you overwork and push yourself to the limit, it makes your pain worse. Feeling overwhelmed can trigger fatigue and increase stress levels, which then start to manifest in physical symptoms; migraines, twitchy eyelids, non-stop crying – to name a few.
Try to identify when your body is telling you to rest, before it forces you to. If I feel the onset of a headache or a fever at the start of the day, I will either give myself one task to complete or write the whole day off.
“Your health matters. If you don’t attend to that first, you will struggle to produce anything of high quality.”
We often attach feelings of guilt to taking breaks, which can lead to worries about incompetency or not progressing if there are ‘lapses’ in productivity. The fact of the matter is, your health matters – physical and mental. If you don’t attend to that first, you will struggle to produce anything of high quality.
In this sense, it’s business-critical to stop and give your body the time it needs to rest!
4. Change your set-up
Consider adapting your workspace in response to any pains you’re experiencing. Whether that’s back pain, wrist pain, stomach pain or otherwise; it’s important that you optimise your workspace to give your body what it needs.
At certain times, it might feel impossible to sit at a desk or on a hard chair. On these occasions, I work in the ‘bed office’ also known as the ‘B’office’ for maximum comfort, while I try to get a couple of tasks done.
“It’s important that you optimise your workspace to give your body what it needs.”
I also find it can help to prop your back up with two to three firm pillows to prevent slouching or leaning back too far, causing back pains and further discomfort.
Also, laptop trays can be incredibly useful. Not only to prevent your device from overheating, but also to relieve your body of any excess weight or pressure – laptops can feel like a tonne when you have abdominal pain!
5. Join dedicated communities
If you’re an introvert like me, the thought of communicating with hoards of strangers on community boards might not sound appealing, but sometimes it’s just heart-warming to know you’re not on your own.
You can find an array of helpful tips or things you may not have considered before, from people who are dealing with chronic conditions just like you. Many of these platforms and pages run events as well, serving as a great way to learn more about how to navigate daily life while dealing with pain.
Listed below are some platforms specifically for those who experience pain, illness and other health-related issues: